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7 Tips for Publishing Apps
Categories: Innovation, ROI, Technology

The magazine industry gets an F in Apps, according to Chris Sanborn, President of Sanborn Media Factory. He and Radhika Nayak, VP of Product at Simon & Schuster (S&S) spoke at a panel last night at NYU’s Center for Publishing.  Here are their 7 tips to up the grade:

1. Reconceptualize the App

“We’re not in the testing phase anymore,” said Sanborn, “now we have knowledge of failures, but we’re not learning from the mistakes.” Nayak said there’s a lack of reconceptualizing – the customer experience for apps is just like going through a magazine. “Most people just don’t want to consume magazines on tablets, phones,” said Sanborn. “On a tablet, people don’t have appetite to go through all the interactivity that could be there.”

Many publishers plan, execute, deliver, and then abandon their apps. The good ones launch, get feedback, and iterate. “Apps are living, breathing things,” Nayak pointed out, “more like a website than a static print book.”

“We’re not in the testing phase anymore,” said Sanborn.

2. Budget for Marketing

Also there’s a “lack of understanding of how the apps will find an audience,” per Sanborn. He said movie studios “get it” – “they will spend $80M to make a movie, and then $200M to promote it. The magazine industry thinks their other products are good enough, so they’ll just put an ad in the print magazine and expect their audience to use the app – and that doesn’t work.”

Nayak advises to ask “what’s your budget for marketing the app, not just the book.” In the iTunes store you can’t find anything – it’s overwhelming, she said. “Many of our apps have not succeeded from a branding or revenue standpoint.” It is hard to get your apps promoted – S&S pays Apple to promote them. It’s easier in the iBookstore, because they do more promotion.

S&S’s most successful app has been Bro2Go, which is based on the CBS TV show “How I Met Your Mother.” It did well because CBS owns S&S, and CBS and the show got behind it and did a lot of marketing. Sales skyrocketed when a TV commercial aired during the show.

Since Apple is still in the hardware business, Sanborn recommends partnering with them when they are introducing a new feature that your app can take advantage of. For instance, games that take advantage of the retina display or apps that use the front-facing camera were featured by Apple when they launched.

Time Inc. “said no to an app unless there was a tremendous ROI” said Sanborn.

3. Show the Money

Even though a publisher may have the content they can repurpose to make an app, there may be unexpected costs. When S&S did an app for a food encyclopedia, Nayak said they needed to pay people to cut down and edit it, tag for XML, and add a taxonomy to make the interactivity work (for example, if a customer was on a page about bananas, she could click on potassium to see the other foods that could help with potassium).

When Sanborn met with Time Inc. recently and discussed doing a website, app, and/or video, they said no to an app unless there was a tremendous ROI. Established companies are no longer doing apps to build brand awareness – they need concrete results. “Sometimes you have to give up,” said Nayak. At S&S, she said it’s crucial to get the author on board.

4. Take Something Off

Sanborn said a colleague called Instagram and described a bunch of features it should have. The person on the phone said something like, “Dude – this is what we do – we’re not going to change it.” The things they didn’t do are the things that made it successful – lots of others do the same thing, but they are not simple. Nayak said that too many features and too much functionality is a curse.  She advises when making apps to follow the old adage to “get dressed to go out, then take something off.”

Sanborn’s company created the Sex Position of the Day App for Cosmopolitan Magazine. It was a bestseller with a quarter-million downloads at $2.99 each, and a cost of $10K. It was on point for the brand and simple.

Nayak said she had to do a mobile website for S&S’s corporate site, but the mandate was to get it out the door ASAP. If they had to mimic the entire site, it would take a year. They had to figure out what was crucial and came up with the 4 main reasons people come to the site: Authors, books, series pages, and video.

5. Know Your Customers

“’Who is the audience?’ is not discussed when publishing a book,” said Nayak. “Book publishing is not a science at all. If you don’t know who the audience is, think about the target and create personas.” Then prototype and do some user testing within the demographic.

6. Train the Customers for HTML5

HTML5 is the way to go, and both speakers were working on responsive design. Sanborn said the responsive HTML5 site they built for a tennis magazine had 25K subscribers, but most were using their computers to access it. He said the industry needs to train their customers to go on their mobile devices and type a URL.

7. Be Awesome

“The app just has to be cool,” said Sanborn. They did a game for Vanity Fair Hollywood App for the Oscars. It was picked up by Sam Champion on Good Morning America (giving a 3K download bump), had a print ad in Vanity Fair (giving a 11K download surge), and then it was featured on Apple’s homepage (causing a 30K sustained download flood).

Sanborn recommends creating an app that does not replicate a book, but supplements it with a great, “must-have” utility. For example, if you read a diet and exercise book, you’re pumped up and motivated to start the program. There should be an app, which is a pocket manual with a checklist of items for the diet or reminders of how to do that exercise move you read about.

While Nayak was an easier grader and gave the publishing industry an “average,” both speakers agreed that the current state of publishing apps is in need of much improvement. Time will tell if publishers apply these lessons well – we’ll have to check in next semester….

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